The Killing of Karla Fay
Another senseless death


When a U.S. Marine Corps jet that reportedly was flying too low and off-course severed a wire that sent 20 people in a cable car to their deaths in Italy, it unleashed a fresh wave of anti-American sentiment. It wasn't the first time the pilots from the air base in Aviano had frightened residents with their flying practices.

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro echoed his country's disgust, characterizing the tragedy as further evidence of Americans' reckless disregard for human life. He noted that spectators outside a Texas prison had cheered when Karla Faye Tucker was executed. "And we are on the threshold of 2,000 years of Christ!" he exclaimed.

And so we are. Maybe it is time to evolve.

Ours is a country that talks loudly about Jesus, yet it is the only industrialized nation to kill its own. We used to share that distinction with South Africa, but the coming of President Nelson Mandela brought the end of capital punishment there.

Ours is a country that talks loudly about Jesus, yet it is the only industrialized nation to kill its own.

Perhaps our moral confusion is inevitable. Ours is a new nation suffering the arrogance of youth and inexperience. We may carry briefcases and cell phones, but we are still cowboys. The suits fool nobody.

It is time to grow up and replace our infantile notions of justice with a belief system that rejects barbarism, especially state-sponsored.

To me, Tucker's execution was senseless. The world is no safer. Her victims are no less dead. The lethal injection that stopped her heart also deadened ours. We are slowly going numb, and that is frightening

The killing is nothing new, especially in Texas. They have been stacking corpses like cord wood there since the death penalty was reinstituted. By now executions are routine, and Americans have grown used to them.

This time, though, was different. For starters, Tucker was a woman and, well, we don't kill women in America -- not in our death chambers anyway. We do it at home and in the streets and over and over on TV, but we don't advocate it.

Not only was Tucker a woman, she was a born-again Christian. And while she is not the first person to find religion on death row, her conversion appeared genuine.

I bought it. I believe that the young woman who killed two people with a pickax 15 years ago matured in prison into a woman who, with nowhere else to go, turned inward. I believe her faith healed her.

But then, I believe in redemption. Without that possibility, the promise of it, there seems little reason to carry on.

It is one of the few things upon which Pat Robertson and I agree. Robertson brought Tucker's story to his 700 Club audience, by and large eye-for-an-eye literalists. The show featured a long profile of Tucker in which she talked about her conversion more than a decade ago, her marriage to the jailhouse pastor she had only seen through Plexiglass. She talked about her relationship with God.

Robertson appealed to hard-liners to soften the hand of retribution, asked them what good would be served by executing Tucker. It would be a waste, he said, when she could spend the rest of her life ministering to others, serving as an example of the power of the word of God.

In the end, of course, Tucker was executed. But maybe it wasn't a senseless death. Her story added another dimension to the death penalty debate in this country.

Tucker put a human face on what too often is only a theoretical construction, an intellectual exercise. In some minds, she made the issue more complex, made people uncomfortable with their moral certainties. Could we be wrong?

Surly we can choose to be better than the worst among us. Clearly there is room for growth in the way we deal with those who commit the unfathomable.

Even if you believe it makes sense to kill people to show that killing is wrong, capital punishment cannot be justified in a system that is so weighted by money and so capricious in its sentencing.

Put another way, as long as there is one wealthy murderer free to play golf, not another American should be put to death.

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© Copyright by POINT, 1998
Last modified 2/12/98